Pompeii (and 10 other films about natural disasters)
Out next week on DVD & Blu-Ray, Paul Anderson's Pompeii details the story of one of history's largest volcanic eruptions, one that completely destroyed the town in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius during the days of the Roman empire.
Kit Harrington stars as a slave-turned-gladiator who finds himself in a race to rescue his lover from the clutches of a corrupt Roman senator before the volcano engulfs the entire town. As such, Anderson's film is half romance, half disaster movie.
Also featuring appearances from Carrie-Anne Moss, Kiefer Sutherland and Emily Browning, Pompeii has some jaw-dropping moments during the erupton scenes, though much of the story is focussed on the romance between Milo (Harrington) and Cassia (Browning), to the point that, up until the eruption, the volcano seems an almost incidental part of the plot.
Still, those who love a good romance will find plenty to enjoy here. If you're looking for a straight-up disaster movie though, here are ten more you might want to consider...
Roger Donaldson's 1997 film stars Pierce Brosnan as a volcanologist who arrives in the sleepy but picturesque mountain town of Dante's Peak to study volcano thought to be long since expired, but he discovers that the volcano is, in fact, very much active. Worse than that, it's ready to blow. Convincing the townspeople of this fact however proves more difficult, that is until the volcano wakes up and all hell breaks loose.
The Day After Tomorrow
Roland Emmerich's film envisions a nightmarish scenario in which the effects of global climate change finally reach a terrifying conclusion when a series of superstorms threaten to usher in a new ice age on planet Earth. Dennis Quaid stars as a climatologist who embarks on a treacherous mission to a snow-buried New York in order to rescue his son (Jake Gyllenhaal).
The Perfect Storm
George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg star in Wolfgang Petersen's film, based on the true story recounted in Sebastian Junger's book of the same name. The film details the exploits of the crew aboard commercial fishing vessel the Andrea Gail, which sunk during a massive hurricane off the east coast of North America in 1991. The eventual death toll from the storm numbered 13, while it is is estimated that $200m worth of damage was caused by the storm along the eastern seaboard. Clooney in particular turns in a good performance as Billy Tyne, the boat's stubborn captain who elects to go down with the ship when the storm proves too much to handle. It's a tragic ending, but a fitting tribute to the crew members and the rescue helicopter crew who also perished during the incident.
Krakatoa, East of Java
Bernard Kowalski's 1969 film stars Max Schell as the captain of a ship heading to the island of Krakatoa to search for the wreck of a ship that belonged to the late husband of his mistress (Diane Baker). The wreck is rumoured to contain a cargo of rare pearls, but the captain is persuaded to earn himself some extra cash on the trip by transporting a group of prisoners top the island for the U.S. government, a decision he may come to regret. So, that's a sunken boat with buried treasure, a cargo hold full of violent convicts and a volcano that's ready to blow. What could possibly go wrong?
Starring Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt, Jan de Bont's film from 1996 follows two rival teams of meteorological scientists as they race to be the first to try out their new technology as means of measuring and mapping – and therefore predicting – the behaviour of one of nature's most unusual weather phenomena, the tornado. The film sees the teams chasing down twisters across America's dusty midwest, trying to get close enough to launch a series of sensors into the twisting tornadoes in order to understand how they work. Okay, the idea of a group of scientists conducting an experiment might not ordinarily be the kind of thing that sets pulses racing, but thanks to some fast-paced action sequences and more than a little romantic tension between Hunt & Paxton's characters, the film remains a gripping experience.
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star in this film about a young family who find themselves caught up in chaos and destruction when their idyllic holiday in Thailand is cruelly interrupted by the Tsunami of 2004, wreaking havoc all the way down the country's coast. Based on real events, J.A. Bayona's film is a very moving one and, although its difficult to measure the scale of the disaster in Southeast Asia, it does provide a pretty accurate depiction of the devastation the tidal wave caused for the nations in the area. A less bombastic and more sensitively handled account of natural disasters than many others on this list, The Impossible is well worth a look.
Starring Christian Slater, Minnie Driver, Randy Quaid and Morgan Freeman, Mikael Salomon's film tells the story of an armoured truck carrying $3m that is robbed during a massive flood caused by a dam collapse. One of the drivers is killed and the other, Tom (Slater) manages to hide the money, only to find he has become a suspect himself. Hunted down by the would-be robbers and the sheriff's office, Tom must find a way to escape and prove he is the victim, not the perpetrator, all the while dealing with rising waters that threaten to wipe out the town completely.
Thanks to the expiry of an ancient calendar created by the Mayan civilisation several thousand years ago, the years leading up to 2012 saw the newspapers awash with crackpot theories about the end of the world and, not content with having presented the possibility of a new ice age in The Day After Tomorrow, director Roland Emmerich upped the stakes for his 2009 film by depicting nothing less than the apocalypse. The cause of the human race's downfall? That would be the 'super-volcano' that resides under Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, U.S.A. Although the film received a bit of a panning from critics, anyone who saw it in a cinema would have to concede that some of its sequences are, visually speaking, pretty jaw-dropping. With a cast that includes John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, it's worth a look for any disaster movie fans.
Although Mimi Leder's film suffered a little from being released at roughly the same time as Michael Bay's Armageddon (a film with an almost identical storyline), it still performed very well at the box office and is, arguably, a more scientifically accurate assessment of what might happen should a comet find itself on a collision course with Earth. Leder's film features a cast that includes Robert Duvall, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman and Elijah Wood, detailing a plot to land a spacecraft on the meteor's surface with the aim of planting dynamite to destroy it from the inside before it reaches Earth's surface. Considerably less schmaltzy than Michael Bay's film, this is well worth a watch for its talented cast alone.
Although it is perhaps more of a mixture of disaster movie and science fiction, Soylent Green, released in 1973, was nevertheless one of the first films to address the potential consequences of the greenhouse effect, just as the issue of climate change was really beginning to enter the public consciousness. The film's terrifying concept is set in a future where global warming has lead to failing crops and severe food shortages, and follows the story of an NYPD detective investigating the murder of the CEO of a large, multinational food production company that makes a form of protein supplement known as Soylent Green. Suspecting a conspiracy, he digs deeper, but what he discovers is far more horrific than he could have imagined.